Trend Some MLAs of the Kerala Legislative Assembly opt to alter the style quotient in the House by changing the all-white dress code that is favoured by senior politicians, says Athira M.
White is the favourite colour of the men in politics in Kerala. However, sartorial trends are making their way into the legislature as well thanks to members of the legislative assembly such as M.K. Muneer, K.B. Ganesh Kumar, Shibu Baby John, Suresh Kurup, M.V. Sreyams Kumar, P.K. Abdu Rabb, Manjalamkuzhi Ali, Hibi Eden, Shafi Parambil, V.T. Balram, A.M. Ariff, K.M. Shaji, P. Sreeramakrishnan, V.D.Satheesan… who turn up in branded or designer shirts with colour-coordinated dhotis, shirt and trousers, and even jeans and T-shirt in the House.
Actor and Minister for Forest, Sports and Cinema Ganesh Kumar, for instance, happily flaunts shirts in flashy colours and, sometimes, loud designs. “I’ve never worn an all-white attire other than in films. When I stood for elections, there were many who advised me to wear white, or at least try wearing Khadi. But my argument was that since people have seen me as an artiste, I didn’t want to change that image. Comfort is all that matters and I’m happy that I’ve inspired many to wear vibrant colours to the House. Now nearly 30 percent of the members wear coloured shirts,” he says.
Muneer is another legislator who enjoys a dash of colour in his clothes and was one of the first to wear coloured shirts to the House. “I wanted to break the notion that a politician has to wear white shirt and dhoti,” says Muneer, the Minister for Panchayats and Social Welfare. “In fact when I was elected to the Assembly in 1991, white was almost like a dress code. Gradually things changed with the entry of members like K.P. Rajendran, Ganesh and Shibu. Now you have many of them,” says Muneer, adding that he has started wearing shirts with checks these days.
Most of the members emphasise that it is the comfort factor and not the style quotient that makes them choose a particular attire. “I was a businessman before coming into politics and so I always used to wear coloured shirts. Now if I were to wear an all-white attire, it would be more like role play! When I first came into the House (2001), there was stiff resistance from some quarters who felt that it was not proper for an MLA to turn up like that,” says Shibu, the Minister for Labour and Rehabilitation. Often seen in bright coloured shirts and dhoti, Shibu admits that he loves wearing bright shades. Now that he rarely gets time to go for shopping, he often purchases shirts during his travels, especially from airports.
However, it was not easy for them to convince their party members and seniors that white need not be the colour for politicians. For instance, M.A. Ariff remembers: “My opponent attacked me saying I was wearing costly shirts, which was against party ethics. I got worried and started wearing light-coloured shirts. But my party men gave me confidence and I went back to my branded, bright shirts,” he says happily.
The Assembly has never been this vibrant before, says V.D. Satheesan, who occasionally wears coloured shirts to the House. “I like to wear Chendamangalam handloom shirts that come in many colours,” he adds. But he points out that nearly 80 per cent of the members still fit into the traditional image. Most of the Congress MLAs wear white shirts and dhotis. “A reason for the change of scene has been the young, first-timers in the house,” he says.
And in the youth brigade are Shaji, Hibi, Balram and Shafi. Balram is a fan of Khadi shirts, for Shaji the shirt-trousers combo is the ultimate when it comes to comfort. “It is a fact that there are many politicians who wear white and white just because they want to have the look of a politician,” says Shaji.
Hibi, the youngest in the Assembly, chose to “break the set image of a politician after my stint as president of National Students Union.” He says that the change in attire actually helps to connect easily with the younger generation. “There is a large population of youngsters out there who’ve no politics. So, one way to reach out to them is to be like one among them,” says Hibi, who wears kurtas and shirts with dhotis and trousers to the House.
“Advice was profuse when I came into the Assembly with my shirt tucked-in, and leather bag on my shoulder, looking like an IT professional! The home guards are sometimes confused when we come in such clothes,” says Hibi. Shafi adds: “Few eyebrows were raised but I tell them, it is your work that counts and not the dress.” Plus, it is not easy to maintain a shirt-dhoti combo, he points out.
Although cotton is the favourite of most members, linen shirts have got a huge fan following as well. “The members who come in the best and costly shirts are Abdu Rabb, C. Divakaran, Suresh Kurup and Manjalamkuzhi Ali. Thomas Isaac always sticks to his kurtas and Minister C. Balakrishnan (oldest first-timer in the House) prefers off-white Khadi silk shirts,” comments an MLA.
And almost all those we spoke to rated Suresh Kurup as “a class apart”. A remark that makes the Ettumanoor MLA break into a hearty laugh: “Well, that makes my day! But then I’ve always been like this. In fact, whenever I’ve stood for elections, my opponents have always criticised my branded shirts!” he says.
Well, many of our MLAs are certainly creating a brand new image, sartorially.
Assembly Speaker G. Karthikeyan says he shares a special attachment to his all-white attire. “In fact, till a few years back, I used to wear white footwear too! Even when I go abroad for official purposes, I try to stick to my white shirt and dhoti provided the climate is not very cold,” he says. Also, he has no issues with MLAs turning up in vibrant shirts. “Let them enjoy. After all, choosing a colour is an individual’s choice.”
Men outshine women in the Assembly not just in number, but also in making a style statement. The seven women MLAs in the House rarely grab the eyeballs when it comes to their dressing. Minister P.K. Jayalakshmy asserts that she loves cotton saris. “I ensure that there is a little bit of white in the sari I wear,” she says. K.Bijimol is of the opinion that “may be we women are not that fashion conscious. Most of us prefer cotton saris, that’s about it. Let the men steal the show in this aspect!”